City Council members want to know why staff failed to notice or inform them of a shortfall of at least $100,000 in the solid waste division fund.
City Manager Daryl Berlin uncovered the deficit while making a periodic, unscheduled review of department budgets last week. He informed Mayor Stella Welsh of the problem Thursday."We don't know exactly how big it is," Welsh said. "Our auditors are checking it. It's frustrating because we can't get to the people who need to tell us." Both Public Works Director Ott Dameron and Administrative Service Director Phil Goodrich are on vacation.
Berlin said several factors apparently caused the deficit. Staff underestimated the amount of garbage residents and city departments would generate. The city projected it would collect 20,600 tons of garbage during the year; it hauled 28,000 tons to the landfill.
"The fee structure was not adjusted to pay for the additional 8,000 tons," Berlin said.
Part of that extra tonnage came from new homes in the city; but a good portion came from existing homes, he said. More residents are using second garbage cans than the city planned on.
The solid waste division fund also covers the tipping fee for garbage hauled to the landfill by various city departments, according to Stewart Cowley, division manager. That includes dumpsters at city parks, chunks of asphalt torn up when water or sewer lines are replaced or even homes the city demolishes.
That kind of dumping is "difficult to project and not controlled well," Cowley said.
The growing deficit should have been brought to Berlin's attention some time ago. The city uses a computer control system that flashes a warning message whenever an account dips below acceptable levels. Three people are responsible for monitoring the account: the division manager, department manager and finance director.
"We knew that account was in trouble some time ago," Cowley said. "Those in a position to do something about it, didn't. Why they didn't, I don't know."
The city will have to dip into a solid waste reserve account to cover this year's deficit. That will eat a good chunk of the $250,000 in the reserve account.
Wiping out this year's red ink won't solve the problem either. Figures used in the recently approved 1992-93 budget may also underestimate the dumping expense.
If so, the council will probably have to take steps to avoid a shortfall next year, Welsh said.
Berlin said the city has three options for correcting the problem:
- Raise residential garbage rates and increase the fee for second garbage cans. Berlin doesn't know yet how much fees would have to increase.
- Transfer money from the general fund reserve to the solid waste reserve to cover the city for the coming year and fix the problem in the 1993-94 budget.
- Privatize residential solid waste collection.
"From my perspective I think we ought to take the thing out for private bid and see what the numbers are," Berlin said.
The fiasco has some council members steamed.
"I think something like that being kept from the City Council and mayor - I don't appreciate that at all," said Councilman Kelvin C. Clayton. "We have the ultimate responsibility for those tax dollars. We should have been involved much earlier than we are."